The Democratic primary race in the ninth congressional district made national headlines as Congressman Bill Pascrell beat Congressman Steve Rothman. Pascrell will now face Shmuley Boteach in the general election. The Republican candidate also happens to be one of America’s most famous rabbis. Boteach sat down with NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider about the issues that differentiate him from Pascrell.
Soon after Pascrell’s defeat of Rothman, Boteach says he reached out to his Democratic opponent with an invitation to a Shabbat dinner. Boteach says Pascrell accepted and now it’s just a scheduling matter.
“The Democratic primary was so nasty, it was so ugly, that it alienated so many voters and I don’t want to have that kind of race … And I said to him, ‘let’s know each other as people first before we become opponents, let’s break bread together before we break anything else.'”
While Boteach insists that he wants to avoid a politics of personal destruction, he says there are innumerable differences between him and Pascrell on the issues.
The appeal to Jewish voters was raised in the Pascrell-Rothman battle. During the campaign, reports surfaced that the presidents of several Orthodox Jewish organizations urged their Republican members in Passaic County to register as Democrats so they could support Rothman, who is considered more pro-Israel than Pascrell. Boteach says he condemns those actions, asserting that he is running a values-based campaign.
“I want people to vote for me based on their convictions,” said Boteach. “If you believe in a robust American foreign policy where tyrants are held accountable for their actions and where terrorists are also held accountable for their attacks on others, then you’re going to vote for me …. I believe we have to hold terrorists accountable.”
Boteach says the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be an issue in the general election as well, pointing to one particular action by Pascrell. In 2010, Pascrell was one of 54 congressmen and women who signed a letter asking President Barack Obama to pressure Israel to lift the border closing with the Gaza Strip.
“Gaza is Hamas. They’re sworn to Israel’s destruction. They’re sworn to … attack Jews wherever they may be found including the United States. That’s in their charter.”
While he doesn’t accuse Pascrell of supporting Hamas, he insists that nothing less than a repudiation of the Gaza 54 letter will do in order for Pascrell to show that he supports the Jewish state.
In addition to matters of foreign policy, Boteach claims there are clear distinctions between him and Pascrell on the economy.
“In 2012, Congressman Pascrell was part of a party that is slowly bankrupting this country through out-of-control spending and the solution is not to tax people more, the solution is for government to reign in and control itself. The solution is for us to create more private sector jobs and to create greater opportunity, not to create more obstacle to growth.”